With commencement, Class of 2018 enters world of change

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Today, members of the Class of 2018 received the degrees that they worked so hard to attain. Honored guests and familiar friends, rising to congratulate them, made clear that these graduates are taking their liberal arts education into a world of change.

Even traditional pre-commencement events — a cappella concerts, receptions, Senior Torchlight Procession, and Baccalaureate — were punctuated by innovations:

For the first time, honorary degree recipients — including entrepreneur and cultural critic Sian-Pierre Regis ’06, chess champion and political activist Garry Kasparov, and Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English emerita Jane Lagoudis Pinchin — engaged with seniors and their family members in small group sessions. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass also received honorary doctorates this weekend.

The university’s 2018 Jerome Balmuth Award for Teaching and Student Engagement recipients, professors Chris Vecsey and Lourdes Rojas-Paiewonsky, along with 1819 Award winner Lauren Sanderson ’18, addressed the Class of 2018 during Baccalaureate services.

President Brian W. Casey himself took on the role of Baccalaureate speaker, telling seniors, “You have been given great possibilities and challenges because of the time in which you find yourself.” He continued, “I wish you courage and the strength to meet them. Meet them with grace and care; greet them with the best version of you — the world needs that.”

With Sunday’s commencement ceremony came a renewal of the theme, first by Casey, who reminded graduates that, “Not one of you was spared thoughts you did not agree with, not one of you escaped arguments in the classroom, not one of you was spared the anguish of finishing a paper late in the night when words and ideas escaped you. This was your education.”

Haass delivered the 2018 commencement address, informed by a 40-year career in public policy, and it provided a stark assessment of today’s world.

“The reality is that the world you are entering is one filled by a large number of uncertainties and threats,” he said. “The quantity and quality of the challenges facing the United States and the world are unprecedented in my experience.”

But — with China, North Korea, Russia, Iran, and a series of domestic issues complicating the landscape outside of Sanford Field House — Haass focused on three particular slow-moving crises: the future of work, climate change, and America’s growing federal debt.

The workplace has radically changed since grandparents in the Class of 2018 took jobs and stayed with one employer until retirement. Employment is fluid now, and benefits like retirement and sick leave must be changed to reflect this reality.

“Such reforms will not just happen; it will require citizens — that is, you and the people sitting next to you — along with those who represent them to bring them about.”

As for climate change, Haass said, “In your lifetime, Miami may no longer be a viable spring break destination.”

The usual workaday responses of recycling and driving hybrid cars no longer suffice.

“You should learn enough about the policy options relevant to climate change (or other important issues for that matter) so that you put yourself in a position to know which municipal, state, corporate, national, and international policies and initiatives to support and which to oppose,” Haass said.

On the topic of the national debt, Haass warned that the current rate of debt would eventually prevent the United States from pursuing efforts in research, education, infrastructure, and even dealing with another recession.

“Your generation is not responsible for creating this enormous debt but it will be responsible for fixing it,” Haass said. “This may not be fair, but it is your lot.”

But Haass is not without hope. “That we know these crises are unfolding is a good thing if we choose to do something about them sooner rather than later.”

He reminded the Class of 2018 that, in doing something, facts matter, and that only by educating themselves could they participate in finding solutions.

“Citizenship is a privilege, but with privilege comes responsibility. There is no excuse not to vote. Nor is there an excuse for not knowing about the issues and candidates you vote on,” he said. “I hope you will leave this wonderful campus more committed than before to studying and then doing something about the issues certain to shape your future. I can think of no better way to put the education you have gained here at Colgate to better use.”

Commencement details:

Valedictorian: Xintong (“Zoey”) Liu, from Liaoningsheng, China
Mathematical economics major
Political science minor
Summa Cum Laude with high honors in mathematical economics

Salutatorian: Sydney Margaret Loria, of Batavia, N.Y.
Chemistry major
Classics minor
Summa Cum Laude with high honors in chemistry

684 undergraduate students recognized
1 graduate student recognized (Master of Arts in Teaching [MAT], with distinction)
20 earned their degree on Dec. 31, 2017
442 earned university honors
59 Summa Cum Laude
226 Magna Cum Laude
157 Cum Laude
39 students elected to Phi Beta Kappa

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